“4 cops sentenced to Life Imprisonment in Custodial death case” — A positive analysis

The judgement of a Sessions Court at Ropar sentencing 4 Punjab police personnel to life imprisonment in a case commonly known as ”Hassanpur Custodial death”, on 15th May,2001 has assumed significance for more than one reason. Human rights activists term it as a landmark judgment in the human rights era of the country.

Devinder Singh alias Bhola, son of Gurmukh Singh aged 21 of Village Hassanpur in District Ropar (Punjab) was picked up from his house, along with his younger brother Sapinder Singh and two of his friends, Inderjit Singh and Karnail Singh of the same village by a police party headed by Inspector Didar Singh,SHO Police Station, Anandpur Sahib, Distt. Ropar and consisting of Sub-Inspectors Malvinder Singh Malhi, Gurcharan Singh and Constable Manjeet

Singh and Special Protection Officer, Devinder Singh on the ill-fated day of 18th September, 1999 at about 4. a.m. and taken to CIA Staff, Ropar where all of them were subjected to inhuman third degree torture by the above named police officers, besides one retired Assistant Sub-inspector Sant Singh, whose services were taken only for subjecting third degree methods upon the suspects. All the four were suspected of keeping an assault rifle in the fields of the village. While Sapinder Singh, Inderjit Singh and Karnail Singh suffered serious bodily injuries due to extensive torture, but survived, Devinder Singh could not bear the torture and succumbed to his injuries in the CIA staff, Ropar in the evening of 18th September. His dead body was brought to Civil Hospital, Ropar by Sub-Inspector Malvinder Singh Malhi of CIA Staff, Ropar at about 8.35 p.m.

When the villagers of the village and the relatives of Devinder Singh raised great hue and cry and even laid a road blockade outside the Civil Hospital, Ropar, the police authorities reluctantly booked four policemen for the custodial death. A team of Lawyers for Human Rights International and Lawyers For Social Reforms, Chandigarh, also conducted an on-the-spot investigation and found that not only the police officials but the doctors conducting the post-mortem examination and the civil administration tried its best to save the guilty policemen. A strange fact was brought to light by the lawyers that one retired cop, named Sant Singh had tortured the deceased and other victims, whereas he was not shown posted in the CIA Staff. It was revealed that he was employed only for torturing the people in the CIA staff, and was given the salary in the name of some inexistant person. The lawyers bodies released its investigation report in September,1999 holding Inspector Didar Singh, Sub-Inspectors Gurcharan Singh, Malwinder Singh Malhi, Constable Manjeet Singh and SPO Davinder Singh besides retired ASI Sant Singh, responsible for the custodial death of Devinder Singh and also expressed displeasure over the role of doctors as well as judicial magistrate, Kharar,Distt.Ropar in helping the accused policemen.

Succumbing to public pressure and expose of its mis-deeds by the Lawyers bodies, the Ropar Police registered a murder case against Inspector Didar Singh, Sub-Inspectors Malvinder Singh and Gurcharan Singh, retired Sub-Inspector Sant Singh, Constable Manjeet Singh and SPO Davinder Singh. They were arrested and sent to judicial custody. Later on, retired ASI Sant Singh was got discharged by the police and all the remaining police officers named above except Sant Singh, were brought to trial for the murder of Devinder Singh alias Bhola in the Court of Mr.Maghar Khan, Sessions Judge, Ropar. While all other accused except Sub-Inspector Malvinder Singh Malhi were enlarged on bail, Malhi was lodged in Central Jail, Patiala.

It is a first case of its kind where few strange things had happened. Firstly, the role of retired cops like ASI Sant Singh in torturing the suspects in the CIA staff, came to light. Secondly, its’ the only case where the police had registered the FIR relating to the death of the deceased on the statement of Sub-Inspector Malvinder Singh Malhi, and later on booked the same police officer for the murder of the deceased. It proves that the police left no stone unturned to manipulate the records. but had to follow the rule of law when cornered by the people and the Laywers body. Inspector Didar Singh, the SHO of the Police Station, who had claimed innocence was also charged for the first time in the murder case alongwith other policemen which is also not a normal thing. Another strange event has been highlighted in the present case for the first time which is not ordinarily heard in Punjab. It was alleged that even after his detention in jail, Sub-Inspector Malvinder Singh Malhi was roaming outside the jail, on the pretext of getting medical treatment in civil hospital and visiting the village of the complainant and he threatened the witnesses of dire consequences in case they deposed against him. On the complaint of the father of the deceased Devinder Singh, the Ropar police booked him once again for intimidation and threatening the witnesses. Then it was also strange that Sub-Inspector Malwinder Singh Malhi had accused the men of his own force, with torturing him while in judicial custody. In a separate complaint filed in the Punjab State Human Rights Commission, Malhi has alleged that he was picked up from the civil hospital, Patiala by a police party of Ropar Police and was tortured in the presence of SSP, Ropar at the instance of Inspector Didar Singh, because he had dared to expose the mis-deeds of the senior police officers. This is not the end of the surprises. This is also for the first time, that the Punjab State Human Rights Commission, who was approached by the father of the deceased recommended to the State government to pay a sum of Rs.2.50 lacs as interim compensation to the next of the kin of the deceased and Rs.50,000/- to each victim who were subjected to third degree torture.

Interestingly, Gurmukh Singh, father of the deceased and the complainant in this case, had also approached the High Court, seeking transfer of the trial from Ropar to some other place, with the apprehension that the accused police officers may tamper with the evidence or put pressure on the witnesses. But later on the said application was ostensibly withdrawn, even though Sub-Inspector Malwinder Singh Malhi also expressed similar apprehensions and demanded the transfer of the trial to Chandigarh. For unexplained reasons, the trial of the case remained stayed during the pendency of the matter before the High Court.The accused police officers succeeded in purchasing the two eye-witnesses. Inderjit Singh and Karnail Singh the two prime witnesses who were also tortured by the accused policemen, surprisingly turned hostile by denying that they were ever tortured. But the brother of the deceased namely Sapinder Singh and complainant Gurmukh Singh, besides other witnesses stood to truth and supported the prosecution story. It was also for the first time, that the prosecution of the State had conducted the prosecution of the policemen sincerely and impartially and aptly assisted the court in getting the accused punished. Otherwise, in every case of custodial death, the prosecution conducts the case in a manner which ultimately result in the acquittal of the accused.

On the top of it, Mr.Maghar Khan, the Sessions Judge, Ropar also acted contrary to what was expected of him and behaved in a totally indifferent manner and acquitted Inspector Didar Singh, who was held to be leading the police party when the deceased was picked up from his house, inspite of solid testimony of the witnesses against him.

Be it as it may, the Lawyers For Social Reforms, express its satisfaction at the final result of the case. The guilty people have been finally punished. Its’ a day when one feels really obliged to the rule of law. The judgment has reposed the faith of every law abiding citizen in the law of the land. Even though the acquittal of Inspector Didar Singh in the case is unfortunate, but it has certainly sent appropriate signal to the rowdy police force in the state that whosoever will take the law into his own hands, would have to pay for his excesses one day.

(ARUNJEEV SINGH WALIA)
General Secretary
Lawyers For Social Reforms, Chandigarh.
Chamber No.119, Distt.Courts,
Sector 17,Chandigarh. Ph: 0172-723187, 01762-51398
E-mail: waliars@glide.net.in

Chandigarh.
17th May, 2001